How to Use a Chop Saw

two men working on a piece of lumber with a chop saw

When you have a job that requires small, precise cuts, a chop saw is often the ideal cutting device. These precision saws offer you the ability to make accurate right angle cuts in a variety of materials such as lumber, decking, molding, trim, aluminum, and some metals.

​How to Use a Chop Saw

Understanding how to use a chop saw can be easily learned with a little guidance and some confidence in your abilities. These steps will walk you through the process of cutting with a chop saw safely.

A chop saw is the perfect tool to make fast, accurate cuts. While it is limited in the angle of cutting it can do, and also limited in the size of material it can cut, it is the best tool to use for cutting long, thin boards, pipe, or metal.

Lets start by reviewing what a chop saw is (and what it isn't).

​Understanding Your Chop Saw

​It is important that you understand how to use a chop saw and the differences in it compared to a miter saw. Many people refer to miter saws and chop saws interchangeably, because both saws use an overhead cutting process.  The main difference between a chop saw and miter saw is in the flexibility of cuts that each saw can make.  

  • ​A chop saw makes only one type of cut: straight down at a 90 degree angle to your material.
  • ​A miter saw can cut at a variety of angles. While it utilizes the same downward cutting motion, the angle of cut can be adjusted.

While you may think that you are limited in some capacity with a chop saw, it actually becomes quite handy as you are always set up to make the same, 90 degree cut. Plus, it is a good beginner saw because you only have to worry about one angle of cut and fewer mistakes will be made as a result.  

​A final note: sometimes a table saw will do a better job at the type of cuts you want to do than a chop saw. If you have one, look into which one is best for your specific cut.

two men working on a piece of lumber with a chop saw

​Picking Your Blade

Before you can begin cutting with your chop saw, you need to find a blade for your specific project. When picking a chop saw blade, you need to consider:

  • ​A blade that properly fits the size of your chop saw
  • ​A blade that is suitable for the material you are cutting

For example, you would need a different blade rating for cutting metal than you would for cutting wood. Using the wrong blade type will cause dulling quickly and prevent you from getting a perfect cut with your chop saw. Sometimes, the wrong blade will make it so that you can’t even cut your material.

Related: ​The Guide to Band Saw Blades​​​

Once you have determined what blade you need, it needs to be placed on the head of your chop saw carefully and securely. Follow the directions that were provided by the manufacturer of your saw.

Think About Safety

Because the blade is exposed in a chop saw, you need to take extra precautions to remain safe and free of injury when using it. Always wear safety glasses and dust masks in case of kickbacks and splinters. This will also protect your eyes and your lungs from the sawdust that is created as you cut. 

You also want to make sure you are not wearing loose clothing that could get caught in the blade of the chop saw. Secure your clothing so there is nothing hanging that could get cause injury.

As you move the spinning blade downward to cut, you also need to keep fingers and hands out of the way of the blade. Pay attention to cords, or anything else that might work its way into the cutting path of the blade.

Work slowly, and don’t get ahead of yourself. The beauty of the chop saw can also cause it to be more dangerous: using a chop saw is highly efficient and fast, which can create complacency and lead to dangerous mistakes.

​In need of a good band saw? We've got you covered. Read our comprehensive review on the best band saw in the market.

Preparing to Cut

Once you’ve ensured you’re using the correct blade, and you have the proper safety precautions, you’re ready to measure your material and prepare the chop saw for cutting. Proper preparation will help ensure you make accurate cuts and don’t have to redo any of your work.

Measuring Your Material

Before you start cutting, you need to prep your material that you want to cut. There are two steps you need to take: measuring the length and marking for the cut.

  • 1
    ​Use a tape measure to accurately measure out the precise length of the cut you want to make. Remember the old woodworkers adage: measure twice and cut once! Mark the correct length with a simple, small notch of a pen or pencil.
  • 2
    ​Next, you need to mark the material for the cut. To do so, take a flat edge or ruler and mark the material where you made your notch. You’ll want to create a straight line that is perpendicular to your material. Some find it easiest to use a protractor to ensure you are making an accurate, 90 degree line.

When done, you should have a straight line running across your material. You will be cutting using the chop saw along this line.

Using Your Fences

To ensure you cut on the mark that you have set for your material, you need to use the chop saw fences. These fences are there to create a guide for the blade and to secure your material in place.

  • 1
    ​Start by placing your material firmly against the straight fence.
  • 2
    ​Next, you need need to dial in the protractor fence angle. This will allow you to create a straight cut on your material and provide accuracy that is exactly adjusted to the length you need. You can set this angle by turning the handle that is located on the base of your chop saw.

As you adjust the angle of cut, you’ll notice the blade and base rotate into position to the make the angle cut. Check that you have dialed in the correct angle of cut by slowly moving the chop saw blade down onto your marking without the blade operating. This will show you where the line of cut will occur. The chop saw blade should line up exactly with the marks you made on the surface of your material to be cut.

If your blade is not perfectly on the marks, adjust the setting until you dial in your cut line properly. Check the alignment again by pulling your chop saw blade manually down on the mark. Continue this process until you have achieved the precise alignment you need to make the cut with your chop saw.

man carrying a stack of wood from a log

​Cutting with a Chop Saw

​Once you’ve ensured you’re using the correct blade, and you have the proper safety precautions, you can start using your chop saw. Cutting with a chop saw is very easy, which is why we highly recommend it as a beginner woodworking saw.

  • 1
    ​Turn the saw blade on, keeping safety in mind. As you turn on the power, the chop saw blade will begin to spin in place. Take hold of your material piece and press it firmly against the fence with one hand (usually your left hand) and lower the chop saw blade downward with the other hand (usually your right hand).
  • 2
    ​You want to make a seamless motion as you lower the blade and not force it aggressively through the material you are cutting. Allow the blade to do most of the work while you guide it down through the material piece.
  • 3
    ​Push the blade through the material piece until it has completely cut through it. Keep the material still as you cut.
  • 4
    When the cut has been completed, you can pull the chop saw blade back to the upright position. Turn the saw off and then release your material piece from the saw. It should have a seamless and clean cut that is precise to the line your drew.

​If you see signs of a jagged or rough cut, this is an indication that you might need a new chop saw blade. Replace the blade and try your cut again.

​Conclusion

​Understanding how to use a chop saw doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these steps as you work. Each time that you use your chop saw, you will feel more comfortable and be able to get those accurate right angle cuts with ease.

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